It’s time for the use of juvenile civil citations — an alternative to arrests for common youth misbehavior that’s being used effectively around Florida — to be fully embraced in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Common youth misbehavior can involve such situations as a fight without injury, stealing a T-shirt from a retail store, underage drinking or marijuana use — acts that in days past resulted in a trip to the principal’s office or a call to parents. Serious crimes like felonies are not eligible.
A juvenile civil citation is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; rather there is a consequence that’s more appropriate and effective than arrests for common youth misbehavior, with requirements including community service.
The Caruthers Institute’s third annual study, “Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Civil Citation Efforts 2017,” shows that juvenile civil citations generate three key benefits to a community: increasing public safety by generating fewer reoffenders than arrests; improving youth outcomes by providing a consequence that does not include an arrest record; and saving taxpayer money because arrests are much more expensive to carry out.
“Stepping Up” looked at data from 2016, which showed civil citations were used statewide about half of the time for common youth misbehavior, at a rate of 53 percent. Most counties did not make wide use of civil citations, with three-quarters receiving an F grade in Stepping Up’s report card, which grades counties, school districts and law enforcement agencies on an A-F scale based on utilization.
Juvenile civil citations are used in about two-thirds of instances in Sarasota (68 percent), and half the time in Manatee (48 percent), with the two counties earning a D and F, respectively. The counties’ school districts slightly outperformed their overall counties: Sarasota School District earned a C, with a 75 percent utilization rate, and Manatee School District an F, with 58 percent — which supports the study’s statewide finding that civil citations are used more often at schools than off school grounds.
When Manatee County used juvenile civil citations, it did so very effectively: The county’s record in preventing reoffenders through civil citations tied for best in the state with a 0 percent recidivism rate, which means the program successfully took youth who made a minor mistake and put them on the right path. This is more reason for Manatee law enforcement to issue civil citations more regularly, knowing the county’s program is one of the state’s best at preventing youth from reoffending.
Sarasota and Manatee counties can learn from Florida’s top performers, such as Pinellas County, which had a 94 percent utilization rate (tied with Miami-Dade for first in the state), and its school district, whicht had a 97 percent rate (best in the state). These and other top performers were studied by the Caruthers Institute to develop a set of research-based best practices, which counties can use as a guide to increase utilization and reduce recidivism.
Manatee and Sarasota should consider fully embracing the civil citation concept. Keeping minor infractions off youths’ arrest records is a good idea because it means they can more easily further their education and join the workforce. Saving taxpayers money is a no-brainer. And those receiving civil citations are less prone to commit second offenses or end up being incarcerated for more serious offenses.
At the same time, the Caruthers Institute, as well as the national and state juvenile justice and children’s organizations that support the study, are unable to find any evidence that arrests for common youth misbehavior are a good idea. Yet, there were nearly 9,000 arrests statewide for acts that in years past would have resulted in discipline that didn’t result in an arrest record. It’s time for that to change, and for other Florida counties to follow the example of the counties fully utilizing civil citations with excellent results. It simply makes sense.
Dewey Caruthers, a national expert on civil citations and their effectiveness, authors the annual study “Stepping Up: Florida’s Juvenile Civil Citations.” He runs a St. Petersburg-based think tank — The Caruthers Institute — that generates data-driven social change through conducting research, crafting solutions and leading advocacy. The full study is available at www.caruthers.institute.